Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Bhopal - off the radar once again

The Bhopal verdict story is in danger of going off the radar of our news organisations once again.

The Bhopal fatigue which had crippled all our news organisations for decades, has once again overtaken them.  It is sad how the fatigue sets in when the pressure and the chase need to be kept up the most.

The Group of Ministers (GoM) has come up with a compensation packet for Bhopal. Public anger at the verdict -  forced the Government to act. And it did by setting up the GoM.  The GoM has made an announcement which includes a hike in the compensation, the earlier camount we now learn did not all go into the hands of those affected, but like all money that passes "through the government", went into the many  hands of friends, well wishers of the powers that be, all but those for whom it was intended. So the ministers decided that the compensation packet had to be hiked and the government would seek the extraditation of Carbide boss Warren Anderson, who it had actively helped to flee the country. And it was proclaimed finally, that the site leaching toxins into the ground, should be cleaned.

But wait, it is not Carbide who will be footing the bill of either the clean up or the compensation hike. That, if you are an Indian, will be borne by you. The multinational comes in makes profit, pollutes our ground water and air, murders our people willfully by compromising on safety procedures and then flees. And its new avatar - Dow Chemical - is  set to do business again on our land - and we cannot even hold it liable.

An article in the New York Times states Indians are envious of the US response to the oil spill, seethe over Bhopal. So true.

As an Indian, I am ashamed at how the  Indian state has not worked, how it subversed the interest and future of its citizens to a western corporation, of how it let the the Carbide criminals escape. And now of its inability to get the compensation from the polluters and instead foisting the burden on the Indian tax payers.

Yes the contrast between the US response to the oil spill and the Indian reaction to the gas leak is stark. It shows the Indian state as a powerless entity. It cannot put the guilty behind bars, it cannot get the polluter to clean up the mess it created (yes, we look enviously at how Barrack Obama gets the British Petroleum officials running and the pressure being exerted and the funds set up to compensate those affected) and the clean up that has begun. And here for 26 years we let the chemicals and the toxins leach into the ground.

All seven organizations for survivors' rights have strongly condemned the recommendations of the Group of Ministers on Bhopal. They call the government action in setting up the group as a "smokescreen" . In a press release, the organizations have said the recommendations demonstrate "more concern for the welfare of American corporations than for Bhopal survivors".

The organizations said that the compensation recommended by the Group of Ministers would go to less than 10 per cent of people known to be exposed to Union Carbide’s toxic gases. “The GoM has based its decision on the notoriously flawed system of damage assessment that was designed to downplay and diminish the death and injury caused by Union Carbide Corporation. It has made no recommendations regarding review of death claims or registration of exposure related death claims after 1997, when such registration was arbitrarily stopped." The GoM has denied any additional compensation to 521,000 [91%] survivors who received a paltry sum of Rs. 25, 000 for life long injuries,” said Abdul Jabbar, convenor of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan.

The Group of Ministers has gone back on its June 2008 decision to concede Bhopalis long-standing demand to set up an Empowered Commission on Bhopal to oversee rehabilitation. Instead, it proposes to transfer Rs. 720 crores to the Madhya Pradesh Government for medical, economic, social, and environmental rehabilitation. “More than Rs. 530 crores have already been spent by the M.P. Government in the name of relief and rehabilitation, and there is nothing to show for this. The Rs. 720 crores will go the same way – into the pockets of the Ministers and bureaucrats,” said Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action. “The Madhya Pradesh Government’s list of equipment to buy includes fictitious equipment such as 'automatic micro-organism detection instruments' and 'identification & sensitivity of micro organism" that cost more than 35 lakhs," Dhingra added. "The Group of Ministers could just as well put the money straight into these bureaucrats' pockets and save on overhead costs."

The organizations also expressed dismay that the GoM has failed to recommend action for extraditing the authorized representatives of Union Carbide Corporation, USA and Union Carbide Eastern, Incorporated that is now reincarnated as Union Carbide Asia Pacific and Union Carbide Asia Ltd. “As 100% percent owner of Union Carbide, USA, Dow Chemical is guilty of sheltering a fugitive from justice punishable by 3 years imprisonment under Sec 212 of the Indian Penal Code and the Group of Ministers has made no directions regarding the summons against Dow Chemical issued by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal District Court, on January 6, 2005,” said Balkrishna Namdeo, president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Sangharsh Morcha.

The GoM has also failed to recommend any action to make Dow Chemical pay for the clean up of the thousands of tonnes of hazardous waste and extensive damage to human health caused by contamination of ground water. “The Group of Ministers and in particular certain members of it who are known to be Dow Chemical’s agents have made appropriate noises but their money is not where their mouth is," said Safreen Khan of Children Against Dow Carbide. “It has decided to spend Rs. 300 crores of public money towards removal of toxic waste -- something which is the legal responsibility of Dow Chemical."

Survivors' organizations pointed out that Dow Chemical, through its lawyer Abhishek M. Singhvi, has refused to accept jurisdiction of the Madhya Pradesh High Court for the last six years. Despite this, the GoM has not made a single recommendation towards making Dow Chemical answerable to Indian courts, even as the company continues to do business in India. “This clearly displays an intention by the government to let Dow Chemical off the hook and is just as criminal as the act of helping Anderson escape justice. It is in fact a greater crime because Dow Chemical’s ongoing environmental disaster continues to maim and kill people, including the unborn, as we speak today,” said Rashida Bi, president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh.

The organizations said that the recommendations of the GoM are designed to please the US-India CEO Forum. GoM's recommendation of spending money from the public exchequer to address the lingering issue of toxic contamination follows from one of the founding principles of the US-India CEO Forum that prescribes a “specific focus on resolving legacy issues such as those impacting Dow / Bhopal tragedy of 1984 … to send a strong positive signal to US investors.” (http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/genrep/USIndia.pdf)

The organizations said that the GoM’s recommendations demonstrate the failure of the media attention and public awareness to change the UPA government’s priorities of FDI over the survival of ordinary people in this country.
The signatories to the statement are -
Safreen Khan
Children Against Dow-Carbide

Balkrishna Namdeo
Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha

Abdul Jabbar
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan

Syed M Irfan
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purusg Sangharsh Morcha

Rashida Bee, Champa Devi Shukla
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh

ND Jayaprakash
Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti

Rachna Dhingra, Satinath Sarangi
Bhopal Group for Information and Action

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